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Left Behind Trilogy - action/adventure DVD review
LEFT BEHIND TRILOGY Unrated by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 2 stars
Actors: Kirk Cameron, Brad Johnson, Chelsea Noble, Janaya Stephens, Clarence Gilyard, Gordon Currie
Directors: Vic Sarin, Bill Corcoran, Craig R. Baxley   Studio: Cloud Ten Pictures
DVD release: 08 July 2008   Runtime: 284 minutes (4 discs)
Format: Box set, Color, DVD-Video, Subtitled, NTSC
DVD Features: Audio Tracks (English), Left Behind: The Movie, Left Behind II: Tribulation Force, Left Behind: World at War, Original Left Behind docudrama

The Left Behind series (based on the bestselling series of books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins) so far consists of three films: Left Behind, Tribulation Force, and World at War.

Left Behind is perhaps the most compelling of the three. Certainly there is a good portion of intrigue that should be generated by millions of people suddenly disappearing, leaving their loved ones wondering where they went. Kirk Cameron of Growing Pains fame stars as Buck Williams, a tough GNN (yes, GNN) reporter and news anchor who covers the spontaneous explosion of hundreds of fighter jets as they run an attack raid on Israel. Buck isn't much into God...yet. As we watch, a few of the end-of-the-world biblical prophecies begin to take place (as is, I believe, always the case). As Buck flies back to the Middle East to follow up on some stories, a number of passengers on his flight disappear, their clothes left behind. All children (not sure what the cut-off age is for this) and a bunch of adults vanish - some husbands, some wives, often not both. The plane turns around and heads back to Chicago. The pilot, with the unlikely name Rayford Steele (Brad Johnson), who's been stepping out on his wife with airline attendant Hattie Durham (Cameron's real-life wife, Chelsea Noble), comes home to find his saintly wife and young son missing. His daughter, Chloe (Janaya Stephens), who has a nose ring and obstinately refuses to help her mother with decorating for her brother's party, is also left behind (nose ring is a dead give-away). There is confusion and wondering as it comes to light that this phenomenon is global. All the children of the world are gone, and older people who own well-worn bibles.

Eventually Buck, Rayford, and Chloe go to church. Rayford feels bad about his attitude toward his family of late and tries to connect with his church-going wife in any way he can. At the church they find Bruce Barnes (Walker, Texas Ranger's Clarence Gilyard), who plays a tape for the others explaining the strange disappearance of all the nice people. Bruce helped his pastor film the piece months earlier (it may have been in one of those "In case of Rapture, break glass" kits). Our heroes struggle to get right with God, but there's a wrinkle. Coming into power at the UN is Nicolae Carpathia (Gordon Currie), likely of Russian descent judging by his poor accent (but who am I to judge?). There is talk abounding to make him the leader of the world. With all the people gone, what else should all the world's disparate nations do? But is he a good man?

What is missing in Left Behind is an argument that holds a position of opposition to biblical prophecy. It would have been good to have seen Buck (or anyone else, for that matter) come up with a different explanation. Believe me, there'd be some other opinions. We're also missing anyone noticing people in the process of disappearing. Maybe Buck is talking to a virtuous person and they just vanish? They could have spent $10 on that effect, I would have thought.

Left BehindII: Tribulation Force meets our heroes a week after the disaster that has left the world without its saints. Buck Williams has a foot in the door with Nicolae Carpathia, who wants to use him for his one-world media to match his one world order. News comes from Jerusalem that a couple of guys were severely burned near the Wailing Wall. Buck wants to find out more, but Carpathia has blocked off all access to the wall and would rather Buck covered the historical announcement of Rabbi Tsion Ben Judah (Lubomir Mykytiuk). Rayford Steele is now a pilot for Carpathia (Hattie put in a good word for him at the UN), and he's able to steal a copy of Ben Judah's speech. Looks like this world-renowned biblical scholar is going to name Carpathia the messiah. The Tribulation Force (those who work against Carpathia) know he'll not deserve the name Nicolae Christ and aim to stop him.

The problem with this film, aside from the shoddy foundation inherited from its predecessor, is the fact that the Rabbi Ben Judah is so willing to sell out to the leader of the UN. If the filmmakers are trying to tell us that those who have not accepted Christ as their personal savior are easily duped by the devil, then they don't say it clearly enough. That a rabbinical scholar would effectively hand in his yarmulke and name Jesus as the real deal is laughable. That any of the world's other religions would take his recommendation to heart is downright insane.

Left Behind: World at War, the third in the series sees the world in even more unbelievable chaos. Nicolae Carpathia has made it illegal to be a Christian (not a popular idea). The Tribulation Force from the second movie is breaking into a global government storage facility to steal palette loads of... Bibles? Yep. Bibles. Okay, then. President Gerald Fitzhugh (Louis Gossett, Jr.) can't believe that he's handed the country over to the UN and this Carpathia guy (we can't believe it either, Fitz). As he confesses his part in the terrible fortunes that have befallen his country into a camcorder, a figure emerges behind him. It's Buck Williams, and he's got some literature and some good news to share about the lord. I'm exaggerating, but not kidding.

This film builds on the uneven and impossible-to-believe foundation constructed in the first two films, and at this point I'm just holding onto the action for dear life - and World at War does have a fair amount of action. Exploding SUVs! Guys with guns! Transponders! It moves along pretty well as an action movie, but you have to ignore the little bits of plot that heave up from time to time.

I am the king of suspending my disbelief, but this film has broken that circuit in my brain. That so many nations which can't agree to keep kosher with the Geneva Convention, Kyoto Protocol, or UN regulations could all sign all their power over to the chief of the UN leaves me with a major "Huh?!!!!". The abolition of all religion in exchange for a single world religion is pretty far out as well. No way in hell. Adding Louis Gossett, Jr., to any film is trouble, though I must say it may have been his best performance in years. I bought his part and his emotion, but the canvas he had to work on won't hold his paint.

When we get down to brass tacks, the Left Behind series may play well in church basements and among a certain flavor of Christian. It'll not convert anyone to that flavor of Christianity, and it doesn't really try. You have to be of a certain belief to accept the initial premise of this series. If you are, it may not strengthen your testimony, but you may enjoy this as light entertainment. I'll be damned if I do.

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reviewed by Eric Renshaw
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